Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On Being an Introverted Homebody Traveler

I've been having a lot of conversations lately with students and undergrads about traveling. They are curious about my "gap year" between undergrad and grad school, probing me with questions. After I say that I was on my own in Spain for 8 months, the  reaction that I often get is, "You're brave! I could never do that! Was it hard? Didn't you miss your family?" and they are surprised when I answer that I am the world's biggest baby....and if I could do it, they certainly could.

I am the first to admit it: I am homebody. Saturday night out? More like Saturday night on my couch in my leopard print onesie, with Netflix and a glass of wine. If I'm feeling super lazy, I may also slip on my snuggie and a heated blanket.  No need to tell me how cool I am, I know it.

On top of being a homebody, I am also a classic introvert. While I do enjoy the occasional night out, I lose a lot of energy from being around large groups of people. Some people love going out and meeting new people, but the idea of being a single face in a large crowd makes my stomach turn over. It's not that I don't like to socialize now and again, it's just that it takes so much energy for me. After a night out like that, I am usually drained.

Conversely, although it may seem like I am a boring shut-in who shuns socialization, I love to travel, see new things, explore. It's been difficult for me to reconcile my general homebody-ness with my love of traveling. They don't seem to go hand in and--how can one be an introvert/ homebody and love to travel? Seems like a contradiction to me. Incidentally, living abroad could be, at times, very difficult for me.  I never was and never will be a hard partying discotecer who goes out all weekend and comes home at 7 AM, and it can be hard for me to make friends because when I first met people I am pretty quiet and reserved. But traveling is one of my passions.

I've been trying to gather together my thoughts regarding this matter. I think that a lot of homebodies and introverts have the desire to live abroad, but are too nervous that their personalities won't lend themselves to friendships nor allow them to thrive; while they enjoy being alone, they are, at the same time,  scared of being alone....if that makes sense.

But there are ways for us homebodies and introverts to get the most out of living abroad. Living abroad isn't just for outgoing, fiercely independent individuals and introverts should not be afraid to travel and live abroad.  If I can do it, anyone can do it! After thinking it over, some things that helped me through the experience were:

  • Taking photos from home and hanging them around my piso. Images of my family and friends made my very temporary apartment seem a little more homey to me.
  • Personalizing my living space in general. While it obviously didn't make sense to purchase any "big" homey items, I still made it a case to go out and buy things like candles and throw blankets, which helped make me feel more comfortable in my piso.
  • Recognizing when I needed some "me" time. Many travel bloggers talk about never saying "no" to any experience when traveling abroad, so maybe this point is a bit contentious,  but it was important for me to recognize when I was drained and needed to recuperate with a night to myself. When I am in the mood to go out, I think that I am really fun--I actually have an alias named "Party Shannon" (my boyfriend made it up) who comes out from time to time and goes a little wild. But, when I am drained of energy I get irritable and cranky, which is not fun for me nor the people I am with. This meant turning down some nights out. For me, it was all about picking and choosing. Sometimes this meant staying in on a Friday night, other times it meant going out but coming home at 3 AM instead of 7 (honestly, I'm still impressed that I managed to stay out until 3:30 on several occasions). I just had to recognize when it was a "Party Shannon" night, and when it wasn't. 
  • Along with that point, I needed to admit to myself that I am introverted and a homebody. I never wanted to think of myself that way because it doesn't seem fun or exciting.  Even when I look at photos of others out at crazy festivals like the Running of the Bulls or La Tomatina, I get wistful because I feel like I am missing out on cultural experiences--I wish that events like those were fun to me. But they're not, and I shouldn't force myself to go out and party like that when it is not who I am.
  • Remembering that traveling is about seeing, living, learning, and those mean different things for different people.
  • Above all, remembering that living abroad does mean having to go out of your comfort zone from time to time. Even though I do not think that I am a particularly brave individual, it does take a bit of courage to live in another country. Whenever I started to feel overwhelmed by a situation, I had to remember that I couldn't go home and hide my head under the covers....and I would take a deep breath and remind myself that I could and would get through it. Part of traveling means being a little uncomfortable at times.  Even though there were many instances in which I had to step outside of my comfort zone, I have grown as a person and am better for it.
Any other introverts/homebodies out there who can offer any advice on this matter? I'm a little embarrassed to be exposing this personal side of me, but I really would like to be more well-equipped to help all of my students and peers who are asking for advice....


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Choices We Make

Carol Ann Pergola.
 March 27 1939-November 10 2013.

It was an early summers eve in mid August. My dad and I were were at a bar trying to distract ourselves with some Happy Hour beer and wings. I was surrounded by laughter and conversation, but I felt like I was in another world.

 My grandma had been in the hospital for almost a week. She had been experiencing light-headedness, exhaustion, and loss of appetite for several weeks. My mom and her siblings felt that her doctor was not taking her symptoms seriously enough, so they had made the decision to bring her to the ER, where they knew that the gamut of tests would be run until a diagnosis was made.

After days of waiting, my mom had finally called him from the hospital with some news. My dad had stepped outside to take the call and I remained at the table, waiting. I sat clutching my beer, my stomach in knots, as I waited for my father to return. Something did not feel right to me. 

After about ten minutes, my dad returned to the bar, and sat down with a grim expression.  My world began to spin as I tried to process what he was saying. Leukemia. Acute. Terminal. No treatment.

My grandma was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which I had never even heard of until that moment. I still don't understand much about it---I'm not a doctor. My dad explained that when it is diagnosed in children and young adults, AML seems to have a fairly successful survival rate. But the outlook for the elderly is so bleak that doctors recommend that they do not go through with treatment, as the chemo may have a more negative effect than positive. According to my dad, with treatment, her chance of her survival was only around 20%. Without treatment, she had little time left. A month. Maybe two.

True to her stubborn form, my grandma was refusing treatment. She took this diagnosis as a sign from God that she was finished with her work on earth.  She wanted to use the rest of her time to say goodbye to her loved ones, not suffering in a hospital bed, sick and weak from chemotherapy. Even as my mother and her siblings begged her to try treatment, my grandma stood firm and maintained that she was ready to face her death. The doctor said she would be gone before Thanksgiving.

I could not comprehend it. The thought of losing my grandma had not crossed my mind. I mean, obviously I knew that one day she would pass, but I hadn't expected it to be anytime soon. She was healthy and relatively fit, with all of her marbles and teeth, and looked about ten years younger than her age. I can't tell you how many times I've had people say to me, "How old is your grandma, she looks so young!" I hadn't just hoped that she would be around for my graduation, for my wedding, to be a great-grandmother, I just expected her to be.

I had tunnel vision for the rest of dinner. I barely choked down my food as I tried to make sense of it all. I was trying to digest all of this information with the realization that I had a huge decision to make. A week and a half from that day, I was supposed to make my way to New York to apply for my Spanish visa, which would allow me to participate  in the North American Language Assistant Program. Against all odds, I had received an amazing placement back in Granada and was so excited to embark upon another adventure in Spain.

How quickly things can change. After months of obsessing over Spain, of budgeting and saving, of planning my triumphant return, after countless emails to the Junta...I went home, opened my laptop, and sent an email to the Junta titled "renuncia de plaza". 

And just like that, it was over. I would be lying if I said that I was not supremely disappointed. There were a  few moments (ok, a few days) of panic, and I cried when I officially cancelled my visa appointment. I agonized over my decision over the next few weeks--was it the right one? Had I turned down an amazing opportunity, something that I had obsessed about for over a year? What if she survived, what if she had been misdiagnosed, and I turned it down for nothing? Would I hate myself for not going?


Italy, 2006.

After all, people die every day. Cars crash, fires burn,  freak accidents, heart attacks, whatever. I could of said my goodbyes and gone to Spain with the attitude of "seize the day, live in the moment, you can die at any time, YOLO, live your life" etc. But it was the knowledge, the knowing, that someone I loved was dying that made the decision for me. I had to stay here.


My high school graduation
My grandma and I were very close. We were very much kindred spirits and shared love for good books, European history, and travel. We traveled together in Italy on a family trip, and she came and visited me in Spain when I studied abroad in 2010.  My grandma always told me that she lived vicariously through my blog--she was definitely the number 1 fan. I would always get an email from her almost immediately after I would post an entry. She always encouraged me to follow my dreams, even when that meant telling me to go to Spain even as she was dying.

Deep in my heart, I knew that I couldn't leave. After all that my grandma had done for me, after all of her support and love, I could not leave her at a time when she needed  me most. She urged me to go ("Can't you just email them back and say that you changed your mind?") and basically told me that I was silly to turn down the opportunity, but that was so typical of her. She did not want me to sacrifice my happiness for her, but I could not leave knowing that she was dying. And inside,  I knew that I would have been miserable, tortured, and angry at myself if I had gone to Spain. I don't know that I would have ever forgiven myself.


Spain 2010.

This is the choice that I made,and  I am confident that I made the right one. Endless tears, frustrations, denial, depression, and gloom have filled the last few months, but the last visits that I had with my grandma are moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I'm so glad that I didn't give those up. 


One of my favorites---me, my mother, and my grandma. It's like a time warp.

Spain will always be there, but life is temporary. So, so temporary.

Rest easy, grandma. My heart is so broken. There will always be an emptiness in my life without you here. I'll miss your nasally laugh, your insistence that school is more important than spohts, your lingering Brooklyn accent, your Estée Lauder perfume, your sour cream coffee cake, your endless knowledge of history and your love of books. I know that Grandpa was eagerly waiting for you, and I hope that they don't play too much "boom boom" music in your heaven. Although, if they do, I'm sure that you will advise God of your displeasure (try not to be too hard on him). I love you and will miss you for the rest of my life.

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”


Thursday, October 10, 2013

5 Reasons To Visit Connecticut In The Fall


Although it may sound ironic to say, given that autumn is really a precursor to death, I think that the fall is when Connecticut really comes alive. It is, without a doubt, the best season to be in Connecticut. Our summers are sticky humid and our winters biting and cold, but the fall is pretty much perfect. While there are many reasons to come and visit our beautiful little state, I am going to share the top reasons as to why you should come NOW.


1. Foliage


While the leaves here are not quite as vibrant as those up in Vermont or New Hampshire, they are still pretty damn gorgeous. We are in New England, after all! Towards the end of September the leaves start to turn, and by mid-October, Connecticut is peppered with trees with leaves in gold, burnt orange, rich reds and burgundy.  There is nothing quite like taking a stroll on a fall day, bathed in the warmth of the golden autumn sun, the air crisp and the crunch of fallen leaves beneath your feet. Add in a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks and a big scarf and I am truly in heaven. Oh, and a slice of apple pie. Because, always pie.
.

2. Apples


One of my favorite fall activities is taking a quick ride up to one of the many apple orchards that we have all over Connecticut. Is there anything quite as delicious as an apple picked right off the tree? I love spending a sunny Sunday at the orchards with my family, where we not only explore the rows and rows of sweet-smelling apple trees, but usually make a stop the Farmer's market to pick up cider donuts, apples pies, and other autumn treats. I usually return home with pounds and pounds of perfect fall apples (22 pounds this year!)

We usually visit Bishop's and Lyman Orchards


3. Wine Trails


 I am not gonna lie: Connecticut wines aren't the most potent. This isn't Napa Valley, people. Nonetheless, I still maintain that it is worthwhile to make your way to a Connecticut winery. The many wineries located throughout the state make up what is known as the Connecticut Wine Trail. While wine connoisseurs might turn their nose up at Connecticut wines, it is still fun to spend an afternoon at a local winery taking in the breathtaking views of that gorgeous fall foliage with a glass of locally made wine . I've only been to one Connecticut winery so far, but my friends and I are planning to hit up a few and spend some afternoons lazying in the sun, picnicking, and enjoying some locally produced pinot. What could be better?


I recently learned that the Connecticut Wine Trail also has a Passport Program.  When you visit your first CT winery, you are given a stamp in a "passport" booklet. If you collect a certain amount of stamps in a specific time frame, you are entered in a drawing to win a free trip to none other than....Spain! Unfortunately I found out about this program a little too late, but maybe next year?! 

For more information about the Connecticut Wine Trail, click here.


4. Haunted places

The Warrens & The Occult Museum
Did you know that Connecticut is one of the most haunted states in the country? I didn't either, until recently, and I think that this knowledge has exacerbated my chronic insomnia. Kidding (kinda), but this makes Connecticut the perfect place to be for Halloween! During October, there are a variety of haunted spots to visit if you are a wannabe ghost-hunter or if you just love Halloween, like I do.

Union Cemetery 

There are quite a few legit haunted spots in Connecticut: 
  • Did you know that Ed and Lorraine Warren, of Amityville Horror fame, are from Connecticut? For some real life horror, you can visit The Occult Museum in their house, located in Monroe. If you have seen the movie The Conjuring, this is the same museum that is shown in the movie--and the possessed Annabelle doll is there! Personally, I haven't been to the museum; Lorraine Warren gave a presentation at my University a few yeas ago and her stories scared me enough. But I've heard that it is very cool-just don't touch anything, or you might become possessed (not joking).
  • Connecticut is also home to Union Cemetery in Easton, resting place of the The White Lady. Guests can only visit before sunset--I'm not sure you would want to visit after sunset, truth be told. Looks creepy.
  • Another scary spot of legend is Fairfield Hills, located in Newtown (yes, that Newtown). Fairfield Hills is an old mental hospital with a dark, disturbing past. There are many stories of alleged "mysterious deaths", prisoner abuse, and bizarre medical practices. Visitors say that they feels a ghostly presence in the building and leave with feelings of dread.
  • One of the most renowned haunted spots in Connecticut is Dudleytown, allegedly one of the most cursed places in the whole state. Dudleytown is so haunted that it is illegal for anyone to go there. Lorraine and Ed Warren deemed it to be "demonically possessed" and I guess the local authorities take their opinion pretty seriously, because you will be arrested if you try to go there.
  • For a list of more haunted spots, visit Damned Connecticut. There are many for all of you ghost-hunters out there.

For me, I prefer the more Halloween-esque haunted spots because I really don't want to stand the chance of running into an actual ghost. Nope, no thank you.

 BUT I love going to things like the Trail of Terror in Wallingford. The Trail of Terror is a 45-minute long, dark trek through the woods with  a variety of haunted set ups, tents, and "houses" with famous horror characters who jump out of dark corners and from behind corn stalks and scare the living daylights out of you!  You can see images of the trail here

The Trail of Terror is sponsored by the American Red Cross, which is what I try to remember every time I go and am nearly assaulted by a volunteer in a Jason Voorhees costume ("IT'S FOR CHARITY!!!!!" I scream maniacally as I am chased with a chainsaw).

Thrill seekers can also visit The Haunted Graveyard at Lake Compounce in Bristol, The Amity Road Horror in Bethany, and The Haunted Isle in East Haven.



5. Travel opportunities

Maybe I am stretching with this one a little bit because I am actually advocating that you leave Connecticut, but I digress. One of my favorite parts about Connecticut is its prime location between New York and Massachusetts. Fall is awesome in Connecticut, meaning that it is also pretty great is NY and MA. And it's so easy to get to either city, so take advantage!



Personally, I think that there is no better time to hop on a MetroNorth train, which will take you directly to Grand Central Station in New York in under an hour and a half. This is perfect city-visiting weather--not too hot, not too cold. Whereas in the summer, if you go to New York City, you will feel like melting/dying from all of the exhaust and the sticky humidity. The time to go visit the city is now, before the winter chill moves in!


It also takes less than three hours by car to drive to the great city of Boston. I love going to Massachusetts in the fall. Massachusetts is similar to Connecticut, but has a bit more traditional "New England" charm.  Take a day trip to Salem and learn all about the Salem Witch trials, spend the day shopping on Newbury Street, walk the Freedom Trail, visit Harvard. The opportunities are endless!



Have I convinced you to visit Connecticut yet? 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pellliiisss


As I am not going to Spain this year, I will be continuing with my Masters degree in Secondary Education (Spanish). In November, I will be taking the ACTFL exam which will basically determine whether or not I am competent enough to teach the language. While I was hoping to "study" for the exam IN SPAIN this year, obviously that won't be happening, so I need your help! I am taking an advanced Spanish Grammar class during the fall, but I need to work on my listening skills as well since there is an oral part of the exam that is notoriously tough.  I thought it would be a good idea for me to start watching some movies! Yay for fun study strategies! I am planning to watch one movie a week.

So, can anyone recommend any good Spanish movies? I know that I need to watch Volver, and I've seen Pan's Labyrinth, but that is all! I am pretty open to watch anything except for sci-fi, nor do I really like lovey-dovey, mushy romances..and anything that is dubbed is a no-no. But other than that, whatever!  Help!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Life...

...sometimes does not go exactly as you want it to.

Sometimes you are set to walk one way, but Life steps in front of you and prevents you from moving forward, blocking the path.

All year I had dreamed of going back to Spain and was very set on teaching English in Santa Fe, but due to very recent circumstances, I simply cannot move across the ocean at this time. I don't want to get into too much detail, suffice to say that my family needs me to be home right now. I'm not sure if anyone still reads this blog, but if you do, please send some positive thoughts my way. I'll need them.....my family needs them, too.

I am disappointed that I won't be returning to Granada, but when it comes down to it, I will always choose my family. All roads point to home right now.

But I am not saying goodbye to Spain. If all goes according to plan, I will be in Madrid next summer, taking classes for a Masters program in International Education. I'm hoping to spend the month of June in Granada taking advantage of the  hospitality of some friends ;) and perhaps taking an Intensive Spanish class. So, it's not goodbye, it's just "Hasta luego" for now.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Google Translate Giggles.

So, lately many of my former students have encountered me on Facebook and I have received an influx of friend requests. I am happy to accept them (even from the kids who used to drive me loco).  I love that we have a way to stay in touch and it makes my heart flutter to see them try to Facebook chat with me in English. 

I suspect, though, that a lot of their attempts at English is really Google-Translate's attempt at English. Whatever, at least they are kind of trying? This leads to some adorable results and interesting conversations.

I got the best message today from a 4th grader named Mario who, bless his heart, would probably be better off skipping the Google-translate option and sticking with what he has learned in school. Even if it is only "Hello, I am Mario, I have 10 year".

Not exactly sure when I am going to "become sperm", but I look forward to that day.


And this, folks, is why you should never trust online translators.
(This doesn't really say too much about my teaching abilities, does it?)


Watch the video to view another example of Google Translate gone wrong.